Boca Raton, Fla. — Sitting in the “bagel room” at the Polo Club here last week, Judy Kent was asked if the impeachment of President Donald Trump and the subsequent firing of two prominent Jewish witnesses in the House inquiry would give her pause in pulling the lever for him again in November.
She replied without hesitation: “Hell no.”
“Just like I don’t regret wearing this shirt,” she said as she stood to show off her pink “President Trump 2020” T-shirt.
Kent, 74, a retired office administrator who was born in Puerto Rico and converted to Judaism at the age of 21, said she likes the fact that “Trump doesn’t kowtow to anybody. He says what’s on his mind and he delivers. Every promise he has made to the American people he has kept.”
The Polo Club, a 1,700-unit residential country club in Palm Beach County (there is no polo at the club), is about a half-hour drive from Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, a resort Trump owns and which he has described as his “Winter White House.” Interviews with more than a dozen Jewish voters in the bagel room revealed that the president has a lot of supporters there.
But Kent said she is disappointed that not all of her Jewish friends are enamored with him.
“Some would support anyone but Trump — even Mickey Mouse,” she said.
One such voter is Dodie Wohl of Boynton Beach. She said “the main thing I’m interested in” is seeing Trump defeated. “Bloomberg would be my first choice [for president], but I don’t know if he is well enough known throughout the country,” she said, referring to the former New York City mayor. “How many people in Texas, Oklahoma or the Dakotas know him? I don’t know how his campaign is allocating resources and money in those states.”
On the other hand, Will Vidro of Pembroke Pines said the only Democrat he is “confident can beat Donald Trump is Bloomberg. My objective is to defeat Trump. I know people who won’t vote for Donald Trump. Whether or not they come out to vote is another story — it all depends on whom the Democrats nominate. Most of my friends will not vote for [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders or [Massachusetts Sen.] Elizabeth Warren.”
Battleground of Battleground States
With the March 17 Florida primary less than a month away, the scene at the Polo Club could be a hint at how the Jewish vote might go in a state where Jews could play a pivotal role in the outcome. Florida is the battleground of all battleground states, with 29 electoral votes up for grabs; Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent there in 2016 (Clinton won the Jewish vote 68-28 percent in the state, according to polls). Jews, many of them retirees like the crowd at the Polo Club, make up 5 percent of Florida’s population but traditionally vote in very high numbers.
In an indication of how charged the political atmosphere is these days, some of those interviewed refused to give their names, citing friction within their own families.
One Trump supporter said the views of pro- and anti-Trump supporters have become so intense that “my daughter’s sister-in-law defriended her on Facebook because she is pro-Republican. The same thing happened with my sister-in-law. She defriended my daughter and son, who are pro-Trump.”
The political tension is rising on the Democratic side as Bloomberg has risen, on the strength of massive ad buying and huge national staff, in the national polls – he hit 19 percent in an NPR-PBS News Hour-Marist poll this week. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Warren and Sanders are taking aim at Bloomberg, criticizing his controversial stop-and-frisk policing policy and accusing him of seeking to buy the election.
One Bloomberg supporter, Selma Spielman of Delray Beach, said the debate over stop-and-frisk would not dissuade her from voting for him in Florida’s primary.
“I think people in their long political career always make mistakes and they make statements they have to retract,” she said. (Bloomberg has apologized for the policy, which led to the disproportionate stopping of black and Latino people across the city.) “It is not unusual.”
Bloomberg served as New York City mayor for three terms and was also involved in politics as a philanthropist.
Asked about the charge that Bloomberg is buying the election — he has spent more than $400 million in TV ads, far surpassing all of the other candidates, and has promised to spend $1 billion of his estimated $62 billion fortune defeating Trump — Spielman said simply: “Everyone has a right to do what they want in terms of spending their own money. … Other candidates have very big contributors.”
Martin Restock said he is an independent who recently attended a Republican meeting and asked how many of them would consider voting for Bloomberg if he became the Democratic nominee.
“There were a number of them who said they would have to consider it,” he said. “I said, ‘You can’t say he’s not a supporter of Israel; he puts his money where his mouth is.”
He was referring to Bloomberg’s extensive philanthropy, including his dedication of a building at Hadassah University Medical Center to his mother and to his $100 million donation to create a high-tech research university on Roosevelt Island that is a joint venture between Israel’s Technion and Cornell University.
A Monmouth University poll released last week found that Trump has a 54 percent favorability rating among voters in swing counties, in which the 2016 presidential race was decided by 10 points or fewer, while 47 percent view him unfavorably. Nationally, Trump’s favorability rating jumped to 49 percent — his personal best — according to a Gallup Poll that was conducted in the latter half of last month in the midst of the Senate impeachment trial that resulted in the president’s acquittal. (The FiveThirtyEight.com website’s aggregate of polls shows the president’s approval rating in the 42-44 percent range, essentially where he’d been before the impeachment.)
At the Polo Club, Terry Bresnick said he is “very conservative but a true independent” whose vote for Trump in 2016 was a “vote against Hillary [Clinton]. He was the lesser of two evils. But I’m very pleased with things he’s doing. I don’t care for his texting and tweeting, but I like the fact he is trying to do something with trade with China, with North Korea, the Middle East peace process — and the economy. For the most part, I favor his immigration policies. I lived in El Paso and I know what it’s like with people coming across the border.”
Asked about Bloomberg and Sanders, Bresnick replied: “I didn’t like Bloomberg’s changed position on stop-and-frisk and his ban on large sodas. In general, he’s way too liberal for my taste. And Sanders scares the heck out of me. His election would be the worst thing for this country.”
Praise for the economy came from many Jewish Trump supporters at the Polo Club.
“The economy has never been as good in the United States — not only for us but for blacks and Spanish citizens — and unemployment is low,” said Barry Brahver, 71, a retired physician. “Even my Democratic friends admit they are richer than before.”
But his wife, Esther “Esti” Brahver, said, “You can’t have a normal conversation with someone who opposes Trump. Anytime his name comes up, they never have their facts right. I had a discussion with someone who believed Trump should be impeached. He was uninformed; I gave him the facts. They were trumped-up charges that were ridiculous.”
Is Boca Representative?
Ira Sheskin, a demographer and professor of geography at the University of Miami, said that despite Jewish voter support of Trump in Boca Raton, it does not reflect the Jewish vote statewide.
“I suspect that when it comes down to the general election, Jews will vote for the Democrat — regardless of who the candidate is — and that the Democrat will get between two-thirds and 75 percent of the Jewish vote,” he said.
Regarding Bloomberg, Sheskin said he believes he “has a chance of capturing a good percentage of the Jewish vote and maybe the general vote in the primaries; Jews are not going for Sanders.”
Asked about Bloomberg for president, Esti Brahver suggested he is too old.
“He’d be 79 when he’d take office,” she said. “I’m 70 and I don’t have the energy I had when I was 50. I don’t have the oomph I used to have.”
Barry Brahver added: “Bloomberg is trying to buy the presidency, and we don’t need a Jew in the White House. We — the Jewish people — don’t want to be blamed for the things he does. I’m worried also that if he gets elected, he would be strongly against Israel just to show he’s neutral.”
Yet, on the question of whether a Jew could be elected president, Will Vidro replied: “At this time, yes. There is so much anti-Trump feeling in this country that people have a reason to come out and vote – and Bloomberg is not going to give them a reason not to vote.”
Trump’s impeachment was dismissed by Trump voters, with Barry Rubin, 79, saying. “It may have made me more of a Trump supporter. I thought it was a farce. They had an opportunity to hear witnesses in the House. The Senate made a determination [to acquit] based on the testimony from the House.”
A number of Trump supporters including Stu Marowitz, 72, said they like Trump’s “America First” policy and Marowitz said he finds Trump to be honest and “incredibly smart.”
“Everything he’s done for the economy, to rebuild the military, to support veterans and the Veterans Administration, to get back America’s respect in the world, to not be taken advantage of in trade and to not have to be fighting all over the world – I support his America First policy,” he said. “And the impeachment made me even more committed to him. I don’t know too many people who could have taken the abuse he’s taken.”
But in an ominous sign for Trump, one man who said he had been among the top Republican donors in the country said he is so disgusted with Trump that he plans to vote for Bloomberg.
So does another registered Republican, Charles Kornheiser, 98, of Delray Beach, who said that after the Senate voted to acquit Trump, “I despise practically every Republican in the Senate. … I have no respect for them.”